The physical and emotional restrictions that parents of an infant placed in a hospital's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be nearly too numerous for them to bear. Due to the fragility of their newborn baby's health and specialized care needs, many of these parents yearn for a way to bond with their new child. Fortunately, there is a safe way for these families to begin the bonding process through a method called kangaroo care.
What is Kangaroo Care?
The practice of kangaroo care originated in South America. Quickly garnering success and notoriety throughout the continent, the method spread and gained popularity throughout Europe and later in the United States. Modeled after the way a kangaroo mother carries her offspring, this direct skin-to-skin contact is usually best accomplished when a mom or dad is sitting in a rocking chair. The diapered baby, deemed stable by the medical staff in the NICU, is placed either on the father's bare chest or between a mother's breasts with a blanket draped over the infant's back.
Does Kangaroo Care Work?
Research gathered by such leading organizations as the March of Dimes has confirmed that kangaroo care may assist in maintaining an infant's body warmth, regulating the baby's heart and breathing rates, and establishing necessitated weight gain.
"Through the practice of kangaroo care, the infants make many strides—their heart rates become stable while being comforted by their parents, and we see improvements in their nutrition, as these babies steadily gain weight," explains Dr. Jesus Jaile-Marti, MD, Chief of Neonatology and Newborn Services at White Plains Hospital in New York.
Dr. Karen Henricks-Muñoz, MD, MPH, Chief of Neonatology at New York University Medical Hospital and Bellevue Hospital, agrees, adding that, "time and time again, it has been shown that kangaroo care causes a regulation in a premature infant's heart rate, breathing, and temperature control."